Saddle-Billed Stork and the ‘Big 6 Birds’ in Africa’s Bush


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The Big 5 represent the 5 game species that were most desired as hunter’s trophies in times gone past. They now represent the 5 species that visitors to classic African wilderness areas most want to see. The Kruger National Park set about establishing the ‘Big 6 Birds’ in an attempt at mirroring what the traditional big 5 mammals do for public eagerness to spot species.

Aimed at the layman birder, all 6 birds are large, easy to identify and instantly recognizable. These species are also limited substantially in their distribution and have had their ranges negatively impacted upon by human encroachment; habitat degradation and other pertinent conservation issues.

It is hoped that by making the public aware of these 6 bird species that they can be recognized and so some kind of pressure will be put on the conservation bodies to conserve the areas that house these species.

The Big 6 Birds are:
Kori Bustard
Martial Eagle
Lappetfaced Vulture
Pel’s Fishing Owl
Saddle-billed Stork
Southern Ground Hornbill

Just yesterday on drive, I discovered that a pair of Saddle-billed Storks appear to be nesting. It is estimated that there are only between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of Saddle-billed Storks in the greater Kruger area. These numbers make them far rarer and more threatened than animals such as cheetah and wild dog, not to mention the big five.

Saddle-billed Storks are classified as Endangered in South Africa and the Endangered Wildlife Trust does a lot of work to try ensure their survival. The question as to why they are struggling is still not completely known, although here area a couple of thoughts.

The demographic profile of the bird is poor. It is a big bird that occurs in isolated, widely spread pairs. It also breeds very slowly and irregularly. Secondly, it has quite specific resource requirements; needing large trees for nesting and fresh water as a source of descent sized fish. Thirdly, it is thought to be very sensitive to human disturbance and will not nest if under any stress. Another issue is that the stork’s dependence on wetlands, and in particular large rivers, means that it is exposed to the effects wrought by dams, soil erosion and silting, and to the chemical pollution of these systems.

So all in all this bird is exceptionally rare in the area and any sighting is a real treat. If, on your safari, you get lucky enough to see a Saddle-billed Stork (or any of the Big 6 Birds for that matter), take a moment to reflect that even though they may not be as glamerous as the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino or buffalo, they are in fact under the hammer and in dire need of our time and effort!



Written and photographed by Adam Bannister

Adam Bannister
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